Folk musician Anya Hinkle performs at the Folk Festival on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Visit ncfolkfestival.com for the full schedule. Writer and scholar Meredith McCarroll moderates the Appalachian Reckoning panel at Bookmarks on Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Mountcastle Forum on the second floor of the Milton Rhodes Arts Center.
Bound together by the spine of a mountain range, the Appalachian region stretches from the southern parts of New York to northern Mississippi. As a whole, the area connects 13 states, including southwest Virginia, where musician Anya Hinkle (pictured in the header image) grew up.
“It’s an isolated part of our country,” says Hinkle, whose music is steeped in the tones and traditions of bluegrass and folk. “It’s a very beautiful place. I also felt that the isolation of the area really informs that feeling in the music of the lonesome sound.”
After leaving the region for decades, Hinkle found herself returning to the mountains of Asheville, where she formed the band Tellico. Despite cultural differences, folk music possesses the ability to translate emotion and experience, even in the most unlikely places, says Hinkle. When Hinkle visited Japan a few years ago with her family, she discovered a small group of folk and American roots-music enthusiasts who reignited her passion for the tradition.
“Music is something that can really connect people,” Hinkle says. “Music is one way to present something of [your] culture on an international stage in a way that’s deeply appreciated.”
Author Meredith McCarroll has been steeped in Appalachian culture her whole life too but explores it through the written word.
Having grown up in Waynesville, just 30 miles west of Asheville, McCarroll says that understanding the culture only came to her when she left the area.
“I have very deep roots there and I grew up with lots of family around,” she says. “But I don’t know that I had a real perspective of what it was like to grow up there until I left.”
Now, McCarroll writes and teaches about what it means to be from Appalachia at Bowdoin College in Maine.
Popular culture and the recent popularity of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance has created a misunderstanding, says McCarroll.
“It’s a far more diverse place than many people assume, especially if you’re basing your understanding on TV and movies,” she says. “There’s been more diversity around race, class, diversity in terms of language, in terms of religious beliefs, political beliefs. It’s a place that’s often scapegoated and othered but once you spend some time speaking with people in the region it’s hard to categorize.“There’s a fierceness to Appalachian people because of how extractive industries have abused the region and abused the people in the region,” she continues. “There’s a long history of protest and organizing in the region that doesn’t often get highlighted. A lot of people see the region as passive and stupid… they say the reason people are poor is because they are okay with it.… My instinct was to complicate that singular narrative and to gather together a chorus of voices and then you wouldn’t only be hearing his story.”